Real Ugandan food: Karibu in Waltham
On 1/25/08, at the suggestion of our Ugandan cabdriver, we had dinner at Karibu, a Ugandan restaurant in Waltham. We highly recommend it to lovers of authentic ethnic food. Our dinner was 100% interesting and 90% delicious.
You order by pointing at dishes in the steam tables. We picked sambuzas, chicken stew, beef stew, cooked spinach, matoki (mashed plantains), corn dumpling, and a chapati.
The "sambuzas" (like samosas), one vegetable one ground beef, were very good; would have been even better hot. The spinach was surprisingly good. The matoki and dumpling were filling and starchy, and benefitted from the heaps of "peanut sauce" served with them. The chicken was good...and the beef stew was GREAT. Somehow it was roasted before being stewed, giving it a great smoky flavor. Best of all was the chapati, made to order, nice and hot; great for dipping in the beef stew. Ginger tea ($2 a pop) was hot and strong and GOOD. Dessert was a sort of fried dough ball; nothing special.
The restaurant is one spacious square room furnished simply. The staff (two young ladies) were very friendly. There were a few other customers, mostly single Ugandan men; we were the only nonUgandan customers. Dinner for two with tip about $38.
This is not the place for to celebrate some great special occasion, nor is it the gourmet experience of a lifetime, but it's interesting and fun for a vist.
Other details: 10 Crescent St. Waltham, right behind the "Asian Grille" (which is on Moody St.). Karibu is kind of around the back.
Tried Karibu and overall was very disappointed. I was excited to try it since I've never had Ugandan food. Walking in I was impressed at the size of the room, not quite the hole in the wall I envisioned, and everything seemed spotless. While most of the other patrons were ordering at the steam table, perhaps recognizing we were not Ugandan, we were warmly directed to a table where we were met by a very friendly staff person who told us what was on the menu for the day. "We have sweet potatoes, we have spinach, we have Irish potatoes, we have chicken, and we have beef." We said that sounded good and asked for a sample plate with a little bit of everything. We started off with some of the beef samosas, which were excellent. Just the right amount of spice, not at all greasy, and left us eager for our main course. Unfortunately the samosas were the highlight of the night. The vegetables were competently cooked but generally flavorless. The "peanut sauce" was also flavorless grease. I'm not sure why 2ForThe Road puts "peanut sauce" in quotes, but I was expecting peanut sauce, as that is what they called it. I wish they had provided some other sauce or hot sauce to give the meal some flavor. Beef stew was OK, but nothing extraordinary and pretty greasy. "Chicken" was really just rice with a few small bits of chicken mixed in, also fine but pretty bland. After the meal they offered us chapati, which would have been nice to have during the meal, but ended up just tasting like uncooked flour. Ginger tea was quite good. Since there was no menu I was surprised at the register to find out each plate was $15. Way overpriced for flavorless food in my opinion. Add in the cost of the samosas, chapati, drinks and ginger tea, and tip, and our bill for four was over $110. In the future, I'd just grab a couple samosas to go, if I go back at all.
We went last night. It's interesting, and I'm glad I went, but I don't think I'd go back. I enjoyed the experience and different-ness of it, but the food wasn't interesting enough so that I'd go out of my way to eat it again.
They don't have menus, but the two ladies working there are very nice and are happy to explain what they have. To start, I had one of each of the vegetable and meat sambuzas. They were freshly fried and hot; pleasant enough, but not assertively spiced in any way. I have to admit that I prefer Indian-style samosas.
All of us were then served a plate of assorted starches, as described above- white rice, spinach with peas & carrots, a small lump of steamed white cornmeal bread, matoke and boiled peanut sauce. In addition, I got a small bowl of beef stew, which was smoky and tasty. My one friend got the chicken stew which seemed to have the same sauce and was also smoky. They told us they smoked the meats before stewing them.
My other friend was vegetarian, and since there was no vegetarian stew (the only other option was a fish stew), he had to make due with the plate of starches (which was a fair amount of food, but a bit bland). But he didn't get a break on the price- it was $15 pp with an additional $7 for 4 vegetable and 2 meat sambuzas.
Most of the men eating there seemed to pick their food from the steam table, while we were told to sit down and asked what we wanted. There was a large TV on the wall playing "Hardball w/ Chris Matthews" while we were there. It's not your usual restaurant, but the staff does try to make you feel welcome and it's the only place I know of in the Boston area that serves this kind of food.
I went to Karibu last week. We were the only customers and the row of people watching TV in the back turned and stared when we came in -- everyone else who came in while we were there appeared to be Ugandan too, or at least all spoke the same language. But the cook was friendly and told us what all the dishes were. Everything is in slow cookers and pots and they fix you a plate -- it's like eating at someone's house. I loved the cod stew and the beans. My husband's chicken was a little dry, but tasty, and his potatoes (which tasted like the potatoes you'd find in beef stew) were total comfort food. The yucca and other miscellaneous starchy plaintain-like things were interesting with the peanut sauce, but not my favorite. We didn't order any extras or drinks and dinner came to $24. I was surprised by how much it tasted like my (Indian) mother's home cooking. I'd go back.